Energy plan may bring more solar, wind power to Santa Barbara County

A Strategic Energy Plan adopted by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors could allow the development of projects to provide power to critical facilities during disasters and public safety power shutdowns, make the county more energy independent, give ranchers a way to supplement their income and increase the use of renewable resources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The primary power generation source envisioned by the plan would be solar, but the potential for utility-scale wind energy projects would also be enhanced through the revision of ordinances, specifically in the Coastal Zone.

Large-scale solar projects could be installed on agricultural lands through updates to the Uniform Rules for Agricultural Preserves and Farmland Security Zones, according to a county staff report.

In adopting the plan Tuesday on a 4-1 vote, with 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam dissenting, the board directed the staff to come up with ways to implement the first two phases of the three-phase plan and bring those back for board approval before actually setting them in motion.

The board also directed the staff to work with the County Sheriff’s Office to determine which areas of the Northern Branch Jail property could be used to maximize the potential for solar power generation.

Marisa Hanson-Lopez, senior program specialist with the Community Services Department, said the staff and consultant Optony Inc. considered all potential energy sources, including biomass, biogas, hydro and geothermal in addition to solar and wind power.

Solar scored the highest, with the potential of generating 1,700 to 2,925 gigawatt hours of energy per year — enough to power 595,000 to 1.02 million households, far more than what exists in the county.

Board Chairman and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino asked what the scale of such a solar project might be to power the approximately 150,000 households in the county.

An Optony spokesman said a 1-acre solar array could power 60 to 100 homes, so it would require a total of 1,500 acres of solar panels scattered throughout the county to power all the county’s homes.

In the urban areas of the county’s unincorporated lands, solar panels would primarily be located on rooftops and as shades covering parking lots and could be installed to provide premeter energy that would power the site or postmeter to feed power into the electric grid.

Agricultural lands would primarily be the sites for utility-scale solar panels mounted on the ground, but the county will have to consider how to provide for such projects on properties protected as agricultural preserves by the Williamson Act as well as those that are not.

It could take from 12 to 18 months for the county to develop the necessary regulatory changes to allow projects to move forward and up to 24 months to develop an Energy Assurance Plan to deal with power outages.


Energy plan may bring more solar, wind power to Santa Barbara County, by Mike Hodgson, Santa Maria Times, September 14, 2019.

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